POSTED: 11:51 a.m. HST, Jan 04, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 12:01 p.m. HST, Jan 06, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio » Authorities investigating rape accusations against two high school football players in eastern Ohio launched a website Saturday intended to sort fact from fiction as interest in the case balloons.
The site sponsored by Steubenville city and police officials has the appearance of a legal briefing, with black type on a white background, providing an intentional departure from escalating emotions over the case and how it's been handled.
"This site is not designed to be a forum for how the Juvenile Court ought to rule in this matter," the site declares.
The 16-year-old boys are set for trial Feb. 13 in juvenile court in Steubenville on allegations that they raped a teenage girl last August. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court. Special prosecutors and a visiting judge are handling the case because local authorities knew people involved with the football team in the small city.
At a probable cause hearing last fall, teenagers not charged in the case testified that the victim was intoxicated and at times unresponsive on the night of the alleged assault, according to the local newspaper, the Steubenville Herald-Star.
Public interest increased this week with the online circulation of an unverified video, lasting more than 12 minutes, that purportedly shows another young man joking about the alleged rape victim, also 16. The video apparently was released by hackers who allege more people were involved and should be held accountable.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the posting "despicable" but said it didn't constitute new evidence for local investigators, who were aware of it before the posting.
DeWine criticized the video Friday and said his heart goes out to rape victims.
"I think what is unique and different about this case is that the victim continues to be victimized every time that there is some image that's posted up on the Internet, every time that you have a despicable 12-minute video like we saw yesterday," he said. "You know, I can just imagine how I would feel if this was my daughter."
The website provides a timeline of the case, summaries of Ohio laws that affect sex charges, online posts and reaction to them, facts about the local police force and a pledge of transparency.
Attorneys for the defendants, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, who played football for Steubenville High School, didn't immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment Friday.
Kidnapping charges against both defendants were dropped after a probable cause hearing, according to the court. The visiting judge has ruled the case will remain in juvenile court, not be moved to adult court.
Authorities continue pleading for anyone with information about what happened to come forward, and the investigation has spurred heated commentary online. Some support the defendants and question the character of the teenage girl, while others allege a cover-up or contend more people should be charged.
The latter group includes hacker-activists associating under the Anonymous and KnightSec labels who point to comments they say were posted around the time of the alleged attack on social media by several people who are not charged. A peaceful protest publicized by the hackers drew scores of people to the local courthouse last weekend.
A second peaceful protest in as many weeks was planned for noon at the local courthouse.
In a related issue, student Cody Saltsman and his family sued a blogger and anonymous posters to her blog site in a case that arose from online comments suggesting the student might have been involved but not charged. The suit was settled with the operator of the crime blog acknowledging that there was no evidence of Saltsman's involvement in the rape, and Saltsman apologizing in a statement for tweets he sent the night of the alleged attack.
The girl, who doesn't attend Steubenville schools, is "doing as well as I guess could be expected," said Bob Fitzsimmons, an attorney for her family. He said the publicity and online commentary has been tough on her family.
It's possible she could be compelled to testify in court next month, but that decision is up to prosecutors, Fitzsimmons said. He declined to comment on any facts of the case, including whether or how the victim knew Mays and Richmond.
Storified by Radley Kanda· Fri, Jan 04 2013 14:59:23